Can You Get a Green Card With a Criminal Record?

If you’re beginning the process of immigrating to the U.S. and have a criminal record, you’re probably wondering whether this will affect your chances of getting a green card. While there’s no definitive answer to this question, serious criminal offenses may prevent you from obtaining a green card. For lower-level offenses, a green card may still be an option, but it’s good to work with an experienced immigration attorney.

Can You Get a Green Card with a Criminal Record or Will a Crime Prevent You from Obtaining one?

Immigration officials will consider these key factors in determining whether a criminal offense will prohibit you from obtaining a green card:

  • The facts and details surrounding the criminal offense;
  • The type and nature of the crime;
  • Your age when you committed the offense;
  • The number of offenses on your record; and
  • The maximum penalty typically imposed for your crime and the amount of time you spent in prison.

However, some crimes make a person ineligible for a green card under U.S. law. See 8 U.S.C. § 1182(a)(2)(A) (2020). These include “a crime involving moral turpitude” and a violation of a controlled substance law in the U.S. or a foreign country. Id. The law allows exceptions if the crime happened before the age of 18 or the maximum penalty for the crime was one year or less and, if convicted, the penalty imposed was six months or less.

Other crimes that make you ineligible for a green card include:

  • Drug trafficking
  • Money laundering
  • Kidnapping
  • Prostitution
  • Human trafficking
  • Multiple criminal convictions with an aggregate of five years in sentencing

Even if a crime in your past doesn’t expressly make you inadmissible, U.S. immigration officials have the discretion to deny your green card. Discretionary inadmissibility occurs with serious criminal convictions like aggravated felonies. An “aggravated felony” includes rape, murder, sexual abuse of a minor, theft, and money laundering. See 8 U.S.C. § 1101 (a)(43) (2014). Even if you are already legally living in the U.S., a conviction for an aggravated felony or a crime of moral turpitude can affect your immigration status.

Can U.S. Immigration See My Criminal Record?

When you apply for a visa or a green card, you must disclose whether your criminal history. You should always be honest with immigration officials regarding any current criminal charges or past criminal convictions. Lying on your immigration forms will render you permanently ineligible for immigration to the United States. Background checks and fingerprinting will turn up most criminal convictions throughout the world, so you should be honest on your application.

Waivers are available for some criminal convictions. If you are beginning the immigration process, you should consult an experienced immigration attorney to understand your options. I’ve helped clients worldwide through the U.S. immigration process, even with criminal convictions in the past. I want to help you too. Email me at  or call (617) 714-4375 to get in touch with me.